Friday, February 20, 2009

First Installment from Chile!!!!

Hola, long time, yes, I know. On my trip, I will be blogging and sending out mass emails, if there is some overlap, please forgive. I hope to focus more on food here and of course, be a little more colorful than I would be in mass emails. That may change though. Stay posted.

So, let's start with the food! So far, so mediocre. But improving. The first day I got into Santiago, I went down the street and ordered pastel de choclo, a Chilean dish. If I were from Chile, this would be comfort food. It's a big mush of sweet corn topping with eggs, beef, chicken and olives. It was pretty good actually, although when it's 90 degrees out, it's not exactly what I had in mind. I'm a big fan of hard-boiled eggs in all dishes (on greens with some bacon, in braciole and red sauce) so I enjoyed that but something just wasn't right about that "beef."
Also at this point, I had no clue about prices in Chile so I'm thinking $4,800 (divide by 600 or so) made for a pretty cheap meal. Today I wouldn't pay more than $2,500 for lunch since, as we know, I'm damn near a local now. Really though, I have a much better grasp of the relational economics at play now than I did upon arrival.

For dinner, I went down the street and paid an exorbitant amount for a salad and some really dry bread with chorizo. As an aside, I can overlook the dry bread because I love that the menu described the bread as being "crowned" in chorizo. Lot so menus have things "bathed" in chocolate or caramel and even if it's just ok, I love the way it's worded. The next couple of nights, we cooked at Monika's apartment, which was both affordable, delicious and had the extra bonus of close proximity to a rooftop pool!

On Friday, Giulia and I got on the bus to Vina to relax and escape the Santiago sun. You'd think on the coast, we'd find some good seafood but it was all overpriced tourist crap and fast food. We finally found a place and I had a very nice grilled fish and papas salteados, nothing remarkable but pleasant. I also had my first pisco sour, or should I say I ordered one, took one sip and then promptly spilled the entire thing all over myself so that I smelled like a brewery.

Incidentally, things here are really sweet. I ordered a fruit juice at the market in Santiago and the man asked me if I wanted it very sweet. I said not really and he proceeded to dump a LOT of sugar in. Then, while walking around Vina, we kept being seduced by the smells coming from innumerable bakeries. Finally we could take it no more and gave in. I got lemon pie with the most voluminous meringue I've ever seen. Except it wasn't good, no discernible lemon taste, just straight sugar.

When I got to Valparaiso on Monday, I went straight to a little restaurant near the Central Market called Donde Carlito's, known for it's seafood. I got the Paila Marina, which is another Chilean dish that I apparently can't stand. Their cuisine doesn't seem to have much flavor. This dish was essentially a fish stew, with a cloudy, grey, obscenely hot broth and a ton of different seafood. The soup was so hot, I had to wait about 20 minutes before I took a bit, and let me tell you, it was not worth the wait. The broth reminded me of dirty bath water and the seafood was boiling away in it for what seemed like forever. We all know I HATE overcooked seafood. At this point, I was getting kinda pissed and fearful that I would spend the rest of the five months eating the bread, which is the only thing I like so far. To the market I went, bought some tomatoes and avocado and happily dined on that for a couple days.

On Thursday, I went to the Hare Krishna place and for about $2, I got a huge, wonderful bowl of white beans and pumpkin with a great salad that was topped with shredded beets, as well as some apple-tamarind juice that was delicious. Things were looking up! For dinner, I went to a panaderia and bought a spinach pie with egg in it that of course I loved. And it cost 500 pesos, which isn't even a dollar.

Thursday, I had lunch with two friends from the hostel. We did the daily menu thing, which means you get an appetizer, entree and dessert or coffee for a set price, usually much cheaper than anything on the regular menu. Salad here generally means iceberg but the fried fish entree was fresh and well-cooked. The coffee was pretty wack but decent for Chile, where Nescafe seems to be the norm. I'm really missing coffee. However, this place also does the the fresh juice thing, I got watermelon-aloe and it was slammin'.

Finally, I had to go and get the bus to Pucon. It started not so great. I was sitting on the second floor of the bus in the last row and I knew whoever I got to next to would be a real jerk because who else waits that long to get their bus ticket? Me and this a**hole, apparently. Not only was he sitting in the window seat, he didn't even look up when I sat down. I mean, first of all, he knew that wasn't his seat and second, if we are going to spend the next 12 hours together, most of it in the supine position, could I get a nod or something? The bus was stifling, it smelled like bad breath and my kind neighbor had his big elbows and knees all in my space. But somehow I fell asleep and when I did, the jerk was gone and I got to watch the sun come up over the mountains and the glistening Lake Villarica. A good ending after all.
Quickly hiked to my hostel, took a much-deserved shower and went out exploring. I love Pucon, it makes me want to sing “The hills are alive...” Really, it looks like Austria here, all dewy pines, and soaring, snow-capped mountains. And a volcano! Which I might climb tomorrow! Anyway, I digress. I did two things today that I've been meaning to do; eat machas and mote con huesillos. Machas are like clams but they area specific variety native to Chile and they are often served baked ala parmigiana. It was kinda pricey but I figured I deserved it after spending the night with Mr. Elbows and Knees. Mote con huesillos is a drink or a snack, depends on how you look at it. I saw it all over Santiago and had no idea what it was. Well, it is fantastic, corn kernels and preserved peaches in their juice. I know I'm not explaining that well but there is no other way. It's like three things at once; the chewy corn (not like our corn, by the way), the sweet and lightly spiced juice spooned over it, and the sweet peaches.
OK, sorry for the abrupt ending but the hammock out by the pool is begging for a nap.